Brass and Bronze Care


Brass and bronze are two closely related copper alloys widely used in products of all kinds, from lamps to furniture. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, bronze of copper and tin. Of the two, bronze is the harder metal and has been in use far longer, beginning at least 5,000 years ago. It even has a historical era named after it: the Bronze Age. Brass was not discovered until 1,500 years ago, in part because the key ingredient, zinc, rarely is found adjacent to copper deposits. Both brass and bronze are valued for resistance to damage from friction, such as in locks and doorknobs, as a material in plumbing applications, for musical instruments and as decorative elements in furniture and accessories. Brass, when polished, will appear bright yellow, similar to gold. Bronze has a reddish-brown sheen.

Types of Finishes

Brass and bronze objects come either unfinished or coated with a light oil film or clear layer of lacquer. The light oil slows surface oxidation, which darkens the metal. Lacquer protects against oxidation for a much longer period. Lacquered pieces can be identified by a smooth surface and tendency to remain bright over time. Untreated surfaces will begin oxidation almost immediately after manufacture, though the change in appearance will come on gradually as a “patina” forms, a process called patination. There is no harm to the metal in allowing the patina to form, and many people actually prefer it.

Care and Cleaning of Lacquered Brass and Bronze

Little effort is necessary to keep lacquered brass and bronze looking good. Simply dust regularly with a clean soft cloth. Care should be taken not to use abrasives of any kind, which can scuff or abrade the lacquer surface and thus remove the protective layer, opening the way to blotchy patination.

Care and Cleaning of Unfinished Brass and Bronze

If you prefer a patina on your unfinished brass and bronze, simply dust regularly with a soft dry cloth. If you prefer a bright appearance, use a brass cleaner such as Brasso occasionally, following instructions on the package.